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Toronto Film Festival Reviews: 35 and Counting

Toronto Film Festival Reviews: 35 and Counting

The 35th Toronto International Film Festival kicks off September 9, 2010 and runs through ten days and nearly 300 films – many of them among the most anticipated of the year. indieWIRE will be offering loads of reviews (though not quite 300) as the festival progresses, and this is a guide to each and every one of them. Included as well are reviews of films screening in Toronto that previously played at the Sundance Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival, Locarno International Film Festival or the Venice Film Festival, care of both indieWIRE’s lead critic, Eric Kohn, and Todd McCarthy, of “Deep Focus” (part of the indieWIRE Blog Network).

Make sure to check back as the reviews keep coming in. Also make sure to check out indieWIRE’s complete guide to the fest, which will start including critic’s grades from dozens of Toronto critics as they come in.

Reviews from the Toronto International Film Festival

“Another Year”
Kohn wrote that Mike Leigh’s drama, framed around a series of annual visits of friends and family to the home of an older couple, is “a skillfully understated character study from the master of subtext.” Kohn continues: “Leigh magnifies the existential reflections of his middle-aged subjects, eschewing plot for mere observation and stuffing emotional realism into near-theatrical constraints. Smoothly oscillating from comedy to crisis with an unparalleled eye for naturalism, Leigh once again puts intangible feelings in the spotlight and—using brilliant finesse—makes them funny and profound.” Read more.

“Beautiful Boy”
Says Eric Kohn: “‘Beautiful Boy’ tests the extent to which one can wallow in another person’s grief before it becomes unbearable. The focused story of two parents dealing with their son’s decision to kill several students and then off himself during his freshman year of college, the movie dwells in discomfort. Peeking behind the curtain of a national tragedy, it functions as the cinematic corollary to Gus Van Sant’s ‘Elephant,’ exploring the ripple effect rather than the cause. Unlike ‘Elephant,’ ‘Beautiful Boy’ lingers in familiar dramatic territory, with a limited perspective that borders on the theatrical. The situation is extraordinary, but the fallout tugs the usual heartstrings with ease.” Read the full review here.

“The delicate blend of playful drama in “Beginners,” the second narrative feature by California-based filmmaker and graphic designer Mike Mills (“Thumbsucker”), is a small wonder to behold,” Eric Kohn writes. “Mills fashions the set-up for an overwrought, thoroughly depressing character study into an oddly charming comedy. It’s a midlife crisis gently portrayed with sympathy rather than grief.” Read more.

Kohn called Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s latest multilayered narrative a “misguided melodrama.” He wrote: “As Inarritu drifts from one poorly formed idea to another, his disorganized strategy comes into focus—throw it all out there and hope something sticks. Save for the movie’s discomfiting aura, nothing does.” At least Javier Bardem’s performance “embodies a tragedy far more profound than any single aspect of the mangled plot.” Read more.

“Black Swan”
McCarthy wrote that Darren Aronofsky’s ballet drama resembles “’The Red Shoes’ on acid.” “As a sensory experience for the eyes and ears, “Black Swan” provides bountiful stimulation,” but the script unfortunately “goes over the top in something approaching grand guignol fashion.” Read more.

“Blue Valentine”
Kohn wrote that Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams “give some of the best performances of their careers” in this “anatomy of a break-up.” Director Derek Cianfrance’s “efforts come through in every artfully composed frame,” but the story “never goes anywhere. Unlike “Punch-Drunk Love,” the quintessential visual ode to romanticism of the last ten years, the waves of feeling lingering over every scene have no larger purpose beyond their specific context.” Read more.

“Cave of Forgotten Dreams
“In recent years, Werner Herzog’s sly observations on the ways the universe in wondrously strange documentaries such as ‘Grizzly Man’ and ‘Encounters at the End of the World’ have taken on cult status apart from his existing place in the history of German cinema,” Kohn writes. “Viral videos contain uncanny imitations of the filmmaker’s distinct Bavarian accent reading every children’s classic from ‘Where’s Waldo?’ to ‘Curious George.’ The reality is that Herzog could make the phonebook sound interesting, but he usually aims much higher than that. His latest non-fiction outing, ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams,’ proves that point again: It’s an extraordinary production feat that transcends his personal whims while giving them room to shine. Read more.

“Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer”
After viewing an unfinished cut of this documentary about the former New York governor, Kohn wrote that “it’s an honest, believable portrait” that’s also “hilarious.” Read more.

“Deep Into the Woods”
Kohn wrote that the leads in this story of a mid-19th century forest-dweller’s affair with an upper middle class woman “share a unique screen chemistry” and director Benoit Jacquot “gets points for establishing the intellectual heft of the scenario.” But ultimately, he thought that this “dark, sexy tale of savage love lacks the emotional clarity to match its ideas.” Read more.

“Essential Killing”
McCarthy wrote that Jerzy Skolimowski’s survival story about a mujahidin played by Vincent Gallo is a “competently crafted but repetitive, one-note pursuit picture; when a chase lacks tension and the man being hunted is an unsympathetic Taliban fighter to boot, there’s simply too much to overcome.” Read more.

Kohn was slightly more positive: “At times engrossing and not without palpable suspense, it nonetheless amounts to a provocative doodle.” Read more.

“Film Socialisme”
Jean-Luc Godard’s “Film Socialisme” “is a highly fragmented piece that moves between several locales and situations with no easy guide to help sort through the mess,” wrote Kohn. Kohn was as intrigued as he was baffled, writing “Any attempt on my part to unravel his vast philosophical motives would likely fall flat, but I’ll give Godard credit for attempting to force virtually every category of moving image experience, from the format of early travelogues to YouTube virals, into a single 100-minute spectacle.” Read more.

Kohn likes director Xavier Dolan’s “cinematic overstatement” in his tale of a bisexual love triangle, but “the whole thing comes across like a fluffy exercise from a guy whose talents would be better served by artistic progress.” Read more.

Todd McCarthy wrote of Clint Eastwood’s latest: “Eastwood and Morgan are not pushing an agenda of belief here, but neither are they out to debunk or scoff; nor, to their possible commercial detriment, are they intent upon tantalizing or spooking the audience n the manner of “The Sixth Sense.” Instead, they are refreshingly open-minded on a subject it is easy to feel superior to but difficult to rule out with absolute certainty.” Read more.

“I’m Still Here”
Kohn thought Casey Affleck’s “I’m Still Here,” a supposed documentary about Joaquin Phoenix’s bizarre turn from high-profile actor to incompetent rapper, is marred by its “overwhelmingly puerile tone.” He wrote, “When gliding along in observational mode, “I’m Still Here” has a uniquely fascinating outlook; at worst, it devolves into a gratingly simplistic blend of “Jackass” antics.” Read more.

“It’s Kind of a Funny Story”
Kohn writes: “Straining from a painfully uneasy blend of dramatic clichés and poorly scripted gags, the movie plays like ‘One Flew Over Cuckoo’s Nest’ remade as a rudimentary teen comedy.” Read more.

Eric Kohn wrote of Gregg Araki’s latest omnisexual romp: “Mixing the sexual curiosity of “Doom Generation” with the kooky style of “Smiley Face,” this admittedly uneven, undeniably wild and trippy comedy-fantasy-romance-thriller has a lot going on.” “The screenplay occasionally suffers from stilted exchanges, but Araki stuffs it with enough contemporary ingredients to justify the artifice.” Read more.

“The King’s Speech”
“Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush lead a splendid cast in this curious and ultimately quite moving story of an Australian speech therapist who endeavors to rid the future king of his stammer and enable him to speak in public as World War II looms,” McCarthy writes on his blog. “As audience-friendly as it could be, the film will provide a crucial test of the Weinstein Company’s ability to maximize a title’s potential, as this is the sort of Anglophilic crowd pleaser that routinely made fistfuls for the old Miramax.” Read more.

“L.A. Zombie”
Bruce LaBruce’s “wordless, hour-long portrait of a walking corpse waking the dead with his regenerative sexual powers” “features five sexual encounters that inspire laughter at first, followed by fatigue,” wrote Kohn. The film’s “merits lie in its tangents.” Read more.

“Meek’s Cutoff”
Kohn on Kelly Reichardt’s “Meek’s Cutoff”: “Patient but never boring, the story follows a trio of families in 1845, lost along the Oregon Trail under the lackluster guidance of an enigmatic mountain man. Shifting the focus from the rampant masculinity associated with most westerns to the isolation of the women in the group, Reichardt crafts a highly textured narrative that both invokes the mythology of the American frontier and cleverly transcends it..” Read more.

“Never Let Me Go”
Kohn on Mark Romanek’s adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novel: “An incidental sci-fi story that favors elegant imagery over content, “Never Let Me Go” has plenty of emotional baggage to spare.” Read more.

Of Lee Chang-dong’s “moving,” “lyrical” portrait of a 66-year-old woman facing senility who finds “solace in a writing course,” Kohn wrote: “The underlying power of Lee’s movies comes from his decisive rejection of blatant sentimentality. He avoids music cues and other overt stylistic decisions by letting the performances tell the story. Yung’s eternally lost gaze doesn’t reach the depths of Jeon Do-yeon’s role as a grieving mother in [Chang-dong’s] “Secret Sunshine,” but she’s an equally tragic figure.” Read more.

“Le Quattre Volte”
Kohn wrote: “A story of anarchic goats, lively spiritual celebrations and reincarnation, Michaelangelo Frammartino’s “Le Quattro Volte” (which won the Europa Cinemas Label in Cannes’s Directors’ Fortnight) has a heavy philosophical load. Nevertheless, this painstakingly constructed, quasi-documentary about a shepherd and the flock where he’s eventually reborn maintains an unexpectedly playful sensibility on its own terms.” Plus, it includes “one of the most memorable long takes ever put on screen.” Read more.

“Rabbit Hole”
“The outlandish inventiveness of John Cameron Mitchell’s previous films are barely discernible in “Rabbit Hole,” a relatively tame but nonetheless admirable drama sustained by convincing performances and steady direction. Compared to “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and “Shortbus,” the aims of “Rabbit Hole” are relatively minor. The story of a married couple coping with the death of their child, “Rabbit Hole” works just well enough to never fall apart,” writes Kohn. Read more.

“Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale”
Jalmari Helander’s comic horror that reimagines Santa as a “naked, bloodthirsty species” “fails to build on the original lunacy” of the shorts on which it is based. Kohn wrote: “Using a spare cast and relying more on atmosphere than special effects (the Santa creatures are, after all, just wizened old men), his narrative suggests John Carpenter’s “The Thing” for the holiday season. Sadly, the appeal of the director’s openly derivative approach grows redundant after he establishes the basic threat of Santa unleashed, and the build-up goes nowhere.” Read more.

“Route Irish”
Kohn wrote, “Ken Loach’s “Route Irish” may suffer from flat performances and an overwrought, polemically-motivated plot, but there’s no denying its basic power as targeted polemic. The movie follows Fergus (Mark Womack), a disgruntled Iraq war veteran whose best pal Frankie dies overseas before the beginning of the movie. Grappling with the loss and seeking to figure out the details behind it, Fergus embarks on a one-man vigilante mission to bring down the people responsible.” Read more.

“A bizarre, messy tale of religious philosophy and guilt,” Kohn writes, “John Curran’s ‘Stone’ has several unique parts that never entirely fit together. Robert De Niro stars as Michigan-based parole officer Jack Mabrey, an unnervingly cold man with inner demons to spare. His latest subject is Stone (Edward Norton), a convicted arsonist up for parole.” Read more.

Eric Kohn writes: “As a maniacal farce about wannabe superheroes, Gunn’s third feature (he anonymously co-directed “Tromeo and Juliet” in addition to 2006’s “Slither”) feels both strange and familiar. No matter how much Gunn would like to distance himself from the trend of indie stories about the everyman-turned-hero, “SUPER” bears marked similarities to the gleeful indulgence of violence in “Kick Ass,” “Defendor” and “Special.” But Gunn outdoes his predecessors in terms of sheer adrenaline rush alone.” Read more.

“The enjoyably wacky scenario of Errol Morris’s ‘Tabloid’ is cookie cutter material for the documentarian, but Morris wields his personalized cookie cutter like a pro,” Kohn writes. “Doing penance for the grim, sterile polemics of ‘Standard Operating Procedure,’ Morris bounces back with the sort of phenomenally surreal weird-but-true tale expected of him. The result is not a major work, but still a wildly funny portrait that succeeds at inducing the incredulity Morris always seeks out.” Read more.

“Tamara Drewe”
“Posy Simmonds’s 2007 graphic novel ‘Tamara Drewe’ portrayed a reckless, stuffy, egotistical author, but she still pitied the guy. In his scathingly funny big screen adaptation, Stephen Frears scoffs at them. The director manages to improve on the source material by putting its dark satiric edge in the spotlight,” writes Kohn in his review of this film that has divided critics. Read more.

Kohn said that the Bruce McDonald’s “My Dinner with Andre”-esque drama about a pair of former bandmates “develops enormous power from the solemnity” of the leads’ performances. However, the “structurally uneven” film “loses its hold whenever it involves more advanced staging than the routine shot-reverse shot of the women in conversation.” Read more.

“Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”
The winner of the Palme D’Or at Cannes, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s tale of a middle-aged man who lives in the forest and is dying of illness “lights up with marvelous imagery and invention from its very first scene,” wrote Kohn. “Weerasethakul deals with folklore, memory and death in a wonderfully playful manner that’s moderately accessible and cryptic at the same time. Guided by forces as otherworldly as his plot, the filmmaker turns narrative confusion into his greatest conceit.” href=”http://www.indiewire.com/article/cannes_review_impenetrable_fantasy_uncle_boonmee_who_can_recall_his_past_li/”>Read more.

“The Way”
“The remarkable thing about ‘The Way’ is that it works so much better than it should,” Eric Kohn writes. “Several aspects suggest the makings of a dud: It’s a story about spirituality with a protagonist who has none. The plot, in which well-to-do California dentist Tom (Martin Sheen) completes a pilgrimage started by his late son (Emilio Estevez, seen in flashbacks and also the writer-director), sounds like a fundamentally simplistic and sentimental bore. And hardly anyone really liked Estevez’s last movie, “Bobby.” Read more.

Kohn wrote that Benedek Fliegauf’s “Womb,” a slow-moving sci-fi thriller about a woman who clones her dead lover, has “compelling moments,” but they only arrive “in the tense final minutes.” “Like Fliegauf’s previous feature, “Milky Way,” visuals take prominence. His drawn-out aesthetic impulses supply a series of gorgeous images but his screenwriting provides little dramatic momentum to sustain them.” Read more.

“You Are Here”
Kohn says the pain of figuring out Daniel Cockburn’s enigmatic collage of images and ideas “feels good,” writing, “Cockburn’s movie’s pop philosophy yields an original form of heady entertainment.” Read more.

“You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger”
In his latest film, Woody Allen “achieves another competent melding of comedic and dramatic elements by avoiding New York specificity. While not explicitly funny in every scene, “Dark Stranger” bears a shrewd backbone soaked in irony. It’s decent without being quintessential,” wrote Kohn. Read more.

McCarthy is less charitable: ““You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger” is one of those Woody Allen movies that bolsters the conviction that sometimes he doesn’t spend enough time on his scripts. More a diagram for a movie than a work that feels fully realized or inhabited by real people, this London-set comic melodrama is populated by a sorry lot of unhappy folks who switch partners and fail by chasing misguided illusions. … it’s a notch above “Scoop” and “Whatever Works” among the Woodman’s recent output, but very far indeed from “Match Point” and “Vicky Christina Barcelona.””

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